by Ron Cunningham
Executive Director, Bike Florida
When you think about it, riding a bicycle is an act of revolution.
It’s not just the most efficient means of personal mobility ever invented, it is a mechanical Declaration of Independence.
Riding your bicycle you invite BP to take its deep water drilling platforms and shove them. You are flipping off Big Auto and telling Wall Street that you don’t need their petro-industrial complex, thank you very much. Your bicycle will take you “off the grid” in AutoAmerica. And the personal fitness that comes with pedaling your own body weight from place to place is the best medicine against a corporate health monopoly that grows fat and rich off a national epidemic of obesity, diabetes, hypertension and other maladies promoted by the sedate auto-lifestyle.
But no revolution comes without risk. And the pure fact is that riding a bicycle in America in general — and in Florida especially — can be a risky business indeed. Nearly every year, Florida tops the list of the most bike-and-pedestrian (walking being another act of revolution) states in AutoAmerica.
It should be a point of shame that, of the ten most dangerous cities in America for walking, the top four are all in Florida — Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville and Miami. And Florida leads the nation in bicycle fatalities, with 22 cycling deaths for every 100,000 bike commuters. No other state even comes close.
The irony is that Florida, with its mild climate, ought to be a year-around paradise for cyclists. But the reality is that traffic congestion, distracted drivers and, yes, politicians who oppose common sense safety measures like red light cameras, a ban on held-held devices while driving, traffic calming and sensible speed limits because they might irritate drivers, all conspire against bike-ped safety.
That needs to change. Bike Florida and the Florida Bicycle Association are on a mission to improve cycling safety in The Sunshine State. That’s why we are sponsoring the Florida Bike-Ped Safety Summit in Gainesville on Friday afternoon, Oct. 24, in the City of Gainesville’s restored train station on Depot Avenue.
The site of the Safety Summit was chosen carefully. It is right next to the sculptures for fallen cyclists erected in honor of six cyclists who left Gainesville on the day after Christmas in 1996 bound for St. Augustine but never arrived at their destination. On a lonely stretch of State Road 26, in Clay County, a distracted driver in a pickup truck plowed into all six cyclists, killing two and injuring the other four. Margaret Raynal, widely known and respected among Florida cycling advocates, was one of the two killed. Doug HIll, a popular Gainesville bicycle mechanic, was the other. Injured were Lauri Triulzi, Jessica Green, Eric Finnan and Charles Hinson.
The errant driver was never charged with anything more serious than a traffic offense. That “accident” enraged and mobilized cyclists across the state.
Later, friends of the fallen cyclists took the wrecked, ruined bicycle parts from the accident scene and embedded them in six rammed earth structures on Depot Avenue. To mark Bike Florida’s 20th anniversary, we have been conducting a year-long fund-raising campaign to restore and enhance the sculptures.
We are dedicating the Oct. 24 Florida Bike-Ped Safety Summit to the memory of those cyclists. The fact that 18 years after that accident Florida continues to lead the nation in bicycle fatalities is a disgrace. At the summit we will invite ranking officials of the Florida Department of Transportation as well as bicycle-traffic-safety experts from the University of Florida and the University of South Florida to talk about how we can turn around Florida’s unenviable reputation. We will also have a panel discussion period when members of the audience can give their suggestions for improving bike-ped safety. We hope to come out of the session with some solid policy and legislative recommendations to improve cycling safety in Florida.
We intend for the Florida Bike-Ped Safety Summit to be an annual event; one in which we can measure progress made and distance yet to go on a year-to-year basis.
The Florida Bike-Ped Safety Summit is the heart of this year’s 2nd annual Share The Road Celebration of Cycling weekend (Oct. 24). Prior to the Safety Summit we will have a morning long session on the Economics of Cycling. Why should communities invest in rail-trails, bike lanes and other bike-friendly infrastructure? Because there is almost always a positive economic payback. Our speakers will talk about the economic potential of bicycle tourism in Florida, the importance of cycling in building an innovation economy, millennials and personal mobility, why businesses are increasingly promoting cycling and more.
But Share The Road Celebration of Cycling is also about — well, celebrating cycling. On Friday evening, from 6-9 p.m. we will have a bicycle/food truck rally at Innovation Square, on SW 2nd Avenue. There will be food, live music, activities for children and families, vendors, information booths and more. We will also have a celebratory bike parade to downtown Gainesville and back just for grins. A good time will be had by all.
Finally, on Saturday evening, Oct. 25, we will have our annual Share The Road Awards Banquet, an opportunity to recognize Floridians and organizations that have made significant contributions to cycling. Our keynote speaker will be T.J. Juskiewizc, director of RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa). RAGBRAI is the oldest and most popular cross-state bike ride in America, attracting thousands of participants each year. It is a major reason why bike tourism is a $1 million a day industry in that state.
Oh yes, and if cycling into the countryside is your thing, take the opportunity between Celebration of Cycling events to register and ride that weekend’s Santa Fe Century and Horse Farm Hundred tours, sponsored by our partner organization, the Gainesville Cycling Club.
In short, Share The Road Celebration of Cycling is an invitation to celebrate the revolution. The revolution in personal, sustainable mobility. To celebrate your Declaration of Independence from the AutoAmerican culture. To revolt against the petro-economic status quo. And to have fun doing it.
For more information about Share The Road Celebration of Cycling see our web site, www.bikeflorida.org.
For information about the Gainesville Cycling Club’s rides that same weekend go to www.gainesvillecyclingclub.org.